Water privatization, our OTPP and AMPA MAC 208-18

by Diane Ballantyne, M.Ed.

Diane is a member of OSSTF District 18 TBU, sits on the Provincial CPAC committee and teaches history, law and the social sciences at Centre Wellington District High School in Fergus.

To see this post with images, please click here.

*****

In August of 2017 I travelled to Chile with an international delegation, supported by the Council of Canadians and the Heinrich Boell Foundation. Our delegation included educators from OSSTF, ETFO, Occasional Teachers, AEFO, ARM and two teachers who were refugees from the Pinochet dictatorship era.

I was afforded this opportunity as the Co-founder and Chair of my local chapter of the Council of Canadians, and because I live in the Fergus/Elora area, ground zero in the water-mining fight against Nestle. You may have read about this local battle in Education Forum’s Water Warriors.

My interest in this fact-finding mission was as a result of the shocking revelations from this Guardian article — A group of Canadian teachers could decide the future of Chile’s water supply — which outlines how our OTPP is profiting from the privatization of water in Chile. In fact our “OTPP is currently the largest investor in Chile’s water and sanitation, holding majority shares in three large Chilean water utilities – Essbio, Esval and Aguas del Valle – and with 41% of the sector under its control.”

After an odyssey of a flight Toronto to Santiago via Bogota, which included a missing MacBook and months of follow up with Colombian airport security (it was never returned), what followed was an extraordinary learning journey.

Our delegation spent two full days absorbed in presentations by lawyers, union leaders, environmental activists, sociologists, political scientists and a smattering of doctoral and postdoctoral students — all while listening to simultaneous translation (I don’t speak Spanish).

The context was important to understand how we got “here”. It was both an overwhelming amount of information and deeply inspiring to see the most vocal activists were mainly highly-educated young women who care deeply about the future of the country they love.

In brief, we learned that the Pinochet government privatized much of the nation’s resources during the dictatorship — water is just one of them — and the effects are still being felt by the citizens, to the detriment of the most marginalized including the Indigenous population.

With this context absorbed, we then spent days completing field visits: water treatment facilities, effluence dumping locales, and community after community after community to see what was happening on the ground.

If you would like to read more about the Chilean historical context, this is a good place to start: The loss of the environmental patrimony continues unpunished.  

What we saw in Chile:

The city of Valparaiso, a UNESCO World Heritage City, is a major port city surrounded by a chain of 45 hills which are gloriously filled with riotous colours. You cannot avoid walking uphill — everywhere!

The geography of the city plays an important role in this story. The wealthier homes front on to the main streets and were connected to Esval’s water and sanitation services. However, the poorer homes, which cascade down the hills into the valleys, were not connected.

Esval refuses to connect them because, according to that corporation, they don’t “legally” exist as a dwelling. Esval has found a loophole in the interpretations of city blueprints and as a result has left thousands of Chilean citizens without access to a basic human right — water and sanitation.

However, what we saw with our own eyes were municipal building projects of kitchens and bathrooms for these cascading homes, so at some point the local government HAD determined these homes were “real” addresses and provided funding to provide the basic building block for a home. What we also saw were many of these “non-legal” dwelling were connected to cable TV services.

If the cable company is able to recognize these to be homes and provide bills to these addresses, the question was why can’t the municipal water and sanitation supplier?

The answer it would appear is the cost of building the infrastructure to service these thousands of homes would be expensive. That would cut into their (our) profits…profits being paid out to us through the OTPP.

This refusal to provide basic water and sanitation services drives people to desperation. The unserviced homes, in order to survive, are driven to “piggyback” onto the services provided to the house fronting onto the main street. There are several issues with this “water hack”. First, we saw thousand of metres of basic garden hoses attached to the main intake, which we learned not only provides insufficient flow, but actually release toxins into the water supply. Second, in many cases there were no sanitation services for these “piggybacked” homes, so raw sewage flowed freely down the valley. Finally, this “arrangement” left the most marginalized in a very precarious position. What if the main street house demanded increased or outrageous payment or services for this “piggybacking”? What if they just cut them off? There is no recourse for the unserviced houses should this occur.

This “selective interpretation” of the bylaws means Esval retains more profit because they do not have to invest in infrastructure to ensure thousands of homes are supplied with a basic human right. While we might suggest that the local governments have a part to play in this, and they certainly do, what we are currently profiting from is this demand for profit.

Another shocking sight was seeing fire hydrants, which were supposed to be operational, unconnected. The impact of this, in one neighbourhood was tragic, with a fire spreading through and destroying 3,000 homes.

Equally disturbing, from a Federation standpoint, is the union-busting Esval facilitating.

I met with union leaders who explained the time frame of the OTPP taking over as the majority shareholder of Esval was the beginning of contract outsourcing.

This outsourcing mechanism is used to bust the union because contract workers are in far more precarious positions: they are paid less, have less job security, and unions are nearly impossible to form. While forming a union is legal in Chile, when contract workers attempt to form one Esval can, and has, summarily cancelled the contract, chilling the organized labour movement. If contract workers were ever successful in forming a union, their labour negotiations would be with their employer, not Esval, and employers do not take kindly to the risk to their Esval contracts.

This outsourcing has been going on for a decade and they have almost successfully destroyed the union. We, as beneficiaries of the OTPP, will profit from this union busting.

It was disturbing to learn that our unionized profession is part of a pension plan which purchased a majority stake in a corporation which profits from a human right while said corporation participates in active union busting to increase their profits for our pension plan.

To be clear, Esval says they are not doing this. The OTPP also says Esval is not doing this.

However, I stood there, ankle deep in raw sewage, with lawyers, engineers, activists and academics showing me that they very much are.

This IS happening.

This recent first-hand experience in Chile has led me to, with the help of my fellow committee members, bring forward the following AMPA motion to Provincial CPAC:

“BIRT that a work group be created that consists of one member from each of the Human Rights Committee, CPAC and the Environmental Work group as well as one OTF governor, to work with the Council of Canadians to investigate the role of the OTPP in profiting from the privatization of water and to report at AMPA 2019.Cost $7500″

To summarize,

Our OTPP is currently, for our benefit, profiting from …

  1. …the privatisation scheme of a brutal dictatorship.
  2. …exploiting those most marginalized in Chile.
  3. …a resource that the United Nations has declared a human right.
  4. …a corporation that is actively working to destroy unionized labour in this sector.

We must research this further to fully understand the majority shareholder status of the OTPP in Esval and the ramifications this ownership is having on the people of Chile.

While I certainly don’t have all the answers, I am happy to answer questions via kdianeballantyne@gmail.com and I hope to have your support for this motion when it hits the floor at AMPA this weekend.

 

 

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